The Sh!t-faced Shakespeare gang return to Brighton Fringe with a boozy production of the bard’s most dour tragedy, Hamlet.
On Sunday night, a notably buzzing and excitable crowd shuffled into the Warren Hat theatre where a middle finger adorned the royal crest on the scenery drapes, a promise of the raucousness to come.
They were here for a night of the now thoroughly tried and tested spin on Shakespeare in which one member of the cast is completely, well, sh*t-faced. In this instance it’s Laertes, having soaked up one too many cans of artisanal craft beer.
After the compere had explained the ‘rules’ of the evening and pumped everyone up, a gong and a horn were handed out to audience members who could signal another drink was in order for the unlucky player. A bucket was also handed out to be used in an emergency, thankfully going unneeded.
The concept is less about the inebriated cast member trying to struggle through their lines and more a license to trip up the other actors. Our Laertes variously mocked his castmates, sat on audience laps, sang Oasis songs and rolled around on the floor with an inflatable doll.
Despite some surprisingly impressive sober performances between the outbursts of bawdiness, the show is ultimately all about accessible comedy – lampooning the bard for the inebriated rather than sneaking some Shakespeare for the uninitiated. Heaven help anyone who didn’t already know the story of Hamlet which disappeared among the sweary gags and jibes of Laertes.
On the night I attended it felt the play struggled to rouse little more than a few muted chuckles, and there was a nagging suspicion that the alcohol fuelled mayhem was all a little put on.
The most enjoyable moments were not so much the drunk actor’s burblings but the witticisms levelled back at him, in character, by the other members of the cast. A commendable attempt to inject a dose of humour in the dreaded “To be” soliloquy was also a nice touch, artfully delivered by Hamlet.
But the true hero of the night was the unwitting, and thankfully game, audience member dragged from the front row and cast as Lord “John” Polonius. He pranced across the stage and earnt a stirring round of applause for his Oscar worthy death.
The company boasts over 170,000 global attendees for their various productions over the years, so they must be doing something right. With such an unpredictable conceit, perhaps it just didn’t go alright on the night this Sunday. Or as Will would say: though this be madness, yet there is method in’t. Probably.
Performed Sun 20 May at The Warren: The Hat.